Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age
 
 

When a franchise lasts long enough, it adopts a personality. Keystone elements drive development, and become fan focal points. These eventually become the bedrock for entire communities. But every now and then, there’s an entry in a franchise that proves divisive – either because of its quality, or direction. Worst-case scenario, these games are spurned by fans and critics, relegated to flippant remarks on message boards. Best-case, they’re remembered for being brave or quirky

2006’s Final Fantasy XII was one such black sheep. Despite being a critical success, its release came and went. Packed with a plot of political intrigue, and a unique combat system, the game hit the PlayStation 2 at the end of its lifespan. Next-gen gaming was already in the living room with the Xbox 360, and developer Square Enix had their sights set on HD with the reveal of Final Fantasy XIII at E3.

 
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If you never got your hands on the original release, then Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is a perfect point to jump in. While parts of the game’s structure haven’t aged well, the cleaned-up visuals and quality-of-life tweaks help smooth these over. This is in addition to an expanded Job system, which only ever saw the light of day in Japan.

Final Fantasy XII tells the story of Vaan, a war orphan and thief, and the worst main character in the world. Thankfully, the supporting cast make-up for the whiny teen’s shortcomings, with each one given enough screen-time to grow. Comparisons to Star Wars are trite, but they’re still accurate; you have your puckish rogue pilot and his sidekick, a princess leading a resistance against an evil empire, and a disenfranchised youth dreaming of bigger things.

But amongst those surface-level similarities, the developers manage to carve out their own world, filled with societies and groups – each with their own unique cultures. More than that though, Final Fantasy XII also looks at the effects colonisation has on a country’s identity. It’s subtle, and quite often you’ll have to dig for it, but it’s there.

There’s a real commitment to the worldbuilding too, even if it’s to the detriment of mechanical and narrative clarity. Different cultures have diverse dialects and lilts to their speech, while some speak in a metred verse. Victorian-era prose is used to detail monsters in your bestiary. It’s a boiling pot, and elegantly parallels the fractured nature of the world you inhabit.

Inside that world you’ll be swinging a lot of swords. Or axes. Or spells. Final Fantasy XII’s combat is all about customisation, and is a welcome departure from the series’ more static roots. Taking cues from MMOs, fights take place out in open environments with attacks unfolding in real-time. You’ll be able to pause the action and queue up commands across your party members, but the game’s rewarding Gambit system automates most of this.

Gambits are a series of programmable if-statements that you can apply to your party; targeting enemies with spells they’re weak to, or casting healing magic on teammates that fall beneath set percentages. The system is incredibly deep, allowing you to apply a hierarchical structure to them too. Seeing your party completely roll through a dungeon because you’ve fine-tuned their Gambits is satisfying. Some boss encounters and tougher enemies are a little more complex than what the system permits, so you’ll occasionally have to take the reins back and control things manually – meaning you can't grow complacent.

Like any good Final Fantasy, there’s also a bevy of side-quests to undertake. This is where the game shows its age though, with most of these boiling down to carting items between outposts and samey NPCs. Thankfully, the generous collection of unique monster hunts are as good as ever, and are made even better through the new Speed Mode.

Speed Mode allows you to crank up the speed of all actions in the game, to either x2 or x4 that of normal. Because most hunts involve you traversing large zones and areas you’ve explored before, this is a godsend. Each hunt presents a difficult combat encounter for you to solve, and rewards you with more gear.

Improvements aren’t just quality-of-life though. The game has seen a visual overhaul, with completely remastered optional audio tracks too. The Zodiac Job system has also made its way over from 2007’s Japan-only release. Players can customise their characters with a little more direction, by choosing specific roles – spellcasters, healers, thieves, tanks, and the like. If you’ve played any RPG then the choices are easy to make. If you’re a first-timer however, it could be quite intimidating – especially as it’s possible to select a Job that doesn’t line-up with a character’s stat growth. This is compounded further, as selecting a job locks that decision permanently.

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age is the definitive version of 2006’s black sheep RPG. New quality-of-life features elevate the game’s strongest elements, while visual and audio improvements make it more palatable. If you missed Final Fantasy XII the first time, don’t sleep on this.


Keith received a physical copy of Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age from Square Enix for review.


Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age
"Quality-of-life features elevate the game’s standout elements."
- Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age
9.0
Excellent
 
Follow Own it? Rating: M   Difficulty: Medium   Learning Curve: 1 Hour


 

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Comments Comments (15)

 
Posted by Bank
On Tuesday 11 Jul 2017 2:02 AM
4
Seriously this game was ahead of its time in various aspects. This was my final FF (say final Final Fantasy five times fast) I committed hours into, right in up into finishing intermediate. Didn't realise until years later that the small things were developed in special ways just to serve the great good.

Story was finally non-melodramatic, political and grand. The main character wasn't actually the guy you're controlling for all of intro. Gambits reduced annoying micromanagement but and also allowed it. Bunch of civilisations that you spent time with and were important for good reasons. JRPG open world weather interactions.

Was the best looking RPG out. The techniques they used to create a large game with minimal assets was amazing! I was trying to figure out their texture work at that age of playing it. "Like wtf how do they look 3D and fully modelled? You can literally see the 2D paint and pixels".

And people didn't like it for the same reasons. The saw a bland story, bland characters with no excitement. It's true that it's actually not that exciting, but the acting, their accents were excellent, and the pacing good. Things were done to fit Ivalice, not too much the way around.
Threw everyone off.

Noice noice, very noooice.
 
 
 
Posted by Bank
On Tuesday 11 Jul 2017 2:06 AM
2
^ But the main thing I was actually MEANT to say (literally went on a tangent after 1st statement) is:
Shout outs to the Fast Forward feature. Which is the single reason I'm able to revisit this game and not get p1ssed off with time.

Every remaster needs to have it. 100% 100% no doubt.
Shout outs.
 
 
 
Posted by lexcalibur
On Tuesday 11 Jul 2017 6:47 AM
2
I played this game for about 130 hours last year so i think I gave it a fair shake. I didn't like it when I originally played it and I liked it even less the second time.

The gambit system is boring, you set it up in a certain way and you literally don't have to do anything except run up to an enemy. The problem this game has is random drop rates on rare items. They take an extremely rare enemy and give the rare item a 1% drop rate. Getting a set of Grand Armour took about 20hours alone. Thats just not fun...
 
 
 
Posted by Blackfox
On Tuesday 11 Jul 2017 8:55 AM
1
I'm glad the game is getting some light, highly under rated in its time. The amount of detailing and art direction in the worlds was amazing (as with an ivalice themed games). Turning off the waiting mode made the gameply alot more enjoyable too.
 
 
 
Posted by that_black_guy
On Tuesday 11 Jul 2017 9:26 AM
2
I put plenty into this on release but didn't get too far through it. I had two issues... the first was all the big names for things and people, it sounds silly but it made it hard for me to follow what was going on.
The 2nd was that it just felt like you spent too much time in the field going from A to B and then back again.... and again... and again. Sounds like they've remedied that a little... so might be worth another crack
 
 
 
Posted by drunk_monk
On Tuesday 11 Jul 2017 9:55 AM
1
Got my copy, cant wait to play when I have a spare 100 hours.
 
 
 
Posted by Syn-Ryn
On Tuesday 11 Jul 2017 10:11 AM
6
Do I need to play through 1 to 11 to get the story???????
 
 
 
Posted by polarbear
On Tuesday 11 Jul 2017 10:32 AM
1
Man, I would love to get this. But time.... I just don;'t have the time...
 
 
 
Posted by palmania
On Tuesday 11 Jul 2017 11:19 AM
-
11 July 2017, 10:11 AM Reply to Syn-Ryn
Do I need to play through 1 to 11 to get the story???????
No Syn-Ryn, you do not have to. Each part for FF has separated story line.
 
 
 
Posted by SpawnSeekSlay
On Tuesday 11 Jul 2017 11:20 AM
1
God I want to get this and play this now. But no time for it now and for a long time, one day... one day Ill get it.
 
 
 
Posted by lexcalibur
On Tuesday 11 Jul 2017 11:31 AM
-
11 July 2017, 09:26 AM Reply to that_black_guy
I put plenty into this on release but didn't get too far through it. I had two issues... the first was all the big names for things and people, it sounds silly but it made it hard for me to follow what was going on.
The 2nd was that it just felt like you spent too much time in the field going from A to B and then back again.... and again... and again. Sounds like they've remedied that a little... so might be worth another crack
The worst part of this game when I played it the first time was that most of the time you are chronically underpowered. I had to gil toss Vayne to death when I first played it because even though I had played for 60+ hours my damage was still doing a little over 1000.

The second time I played I used faqs to get the strongest weapons and power level which was a grind. Vayne still wasn't a push over even after that.

Oh and due to the license board system every character is exactly the same by the end of it all.
 
 
 
Posted by kniteowl
On Tuesday 11 Jul 2017 11:37 AM
1
11 July 2017, 11:20 AM Reply to SpawnSeekSlay
God I want to get this and play this now. But no time for it now and for a long time, one day... one day Ill get it.
I know the feeling... still stuck into Horizon Zero Dawn after getting it on sale during Queens Birthday. Damn adult life for getting in the way of gaming sometimes lol
 
 
 
Posted by SpawnSeekSlay
On Tuesday 11 Jul 2017 1:23 PM
1
11 July 2017, 11:37 AM Reply to kniteowl
I know the feeling... still stuck into Horizon Zero Dawn after getting it on sale during Queens Birthday. Damn adult life for getting in the way of gaming sometimes lol
Yup life as an adult is tough... Wife, 2 kids, Mortgage, House, Chores. Hard to get many hours for sport and gaming in there on top of those commitments, but gotta get them in there somewhere!! #thestruggle #firstworldproblems
 
 
 
Posted by kiwiatlarge
On Tuesday 11 Jul 2017 2:12 PM
2
I'm in the minority here in that I loved the PS2 game. Still my most played RPG after FFX (and it's later Vita/PS3 remaster)

While I never maxed everything, beat all the optional bosses or collected all the top weapons/armour/items, I did beat the story and give every thing else I mentioned a pretty good stab. I remember a lot of work going into Tournasol, and hour fighting a rare bomb trying to get ninja swords in particular..
 
 
 
Posted by SilverStrummer
On Wednesday 12 Jul 2017 8:04 PM
2
I'm hoping Balthier gets his own spin off game one day!